Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel spent over two hours presenting to the Yolo County ACLU last night at the Blanchard Room of the Davis Public Library. Much of that time he went over things like training, body worn cameras, and other new policies of the department.
But then he addressed a key question about the state of policing and treatment of people of color by the police – in a very candid way.
He started with a story about how he would watch the TV show “Cops.” He said, “When I was young and just starting out in law enforcement, every Saturday night I turned onto Cops and watched it. FOX TV cameras in patrol cars taping incidents as they happen. And I kept thinking to myself, I actually do know what the Bill of Rights is and the Constitution and I kept wondering – where are they?”
“Because you can’t do it that way,” he explained. “I watched every Saturday and I watched the Constitution being violated in a lot of ways. It just shocked me.”
He said he eventually had to quit watching it because he would see one incident where he would react, “That use of force wasn’t justified – nor was it reasonable – and they’re putting it on national TV. How could that agency be proud of that. They’re ‘dirty searching people,’ they’re not doing the job the right way.”
Chief Pytel said that, watching it every Saturday, he was thinking to himself, “what the heck type of training are they getting in other states?” He did say, “One of the things I did notice when Cops was doing ride-alongs in California, it was really different.” He said, “That I recognize. They were doing it pretty much the right way.”
He chalked it up to “really really bad training is going on in law enforcement across the country.”
Darren Pytel made the point that this really isn’t about one police officer. He pointed to the body worn camera footage he sees coming off police officers across the country. He pointed out, “You have understand these cops know they are on camera – yet it doesn’t change their behavior. That means that’s institutionalized bad behavior.”
He said, “That’s the way they were taught, that’s the way they’ve done it, and I hate to say it, until somebody makes them fix it, that’s the way they are going to continue doing it. Because they are doing it over and over. They’ve no accountability, no oversight and I think that cops are just flat abusing the rules.”
He cited Milwaukee as a good example of the problem. He reached a similar conclusion as the Vanguard here, “At the end of the day, the shooting probably was justified. We still have to wait for the final video, to some point… but, at least on initial accounts, there was a gun there.”
Chief Pytel said, “The thing is, the community blew up anyway. That means they’ve had a heckuva lot of problems leading up to that.”
He alluded to the report coming out of Baltimore – “Holy smokes! Clear the corner? How much more blatantly illegal can a police department be. You can’t tell a bunch of people to get off the corner. When people hang out – we can’t do that. Everybody knows that – except for them.”
Responding to a question from the audience, he said, “My guess it’s more institutionalized than just bad training.” He said that these departments are using tactics and policies that the profession has long since frowned upon and passed by.
He said this isn’t about a bad apple, it’s about a bad barrel. He explained, “The departments that are facing the biggest problems – it’s not a cop. It’s that department that’s a problem.”
“The stuff that came out of Ferguson – are you kidding me – it sounded like they were extorting the public. I actually think that’s what they were doing,” he said.
In a follow up question from the Vanguard, Chief Pytel also acknowledged different treatment of people of color by police.
“I think we see quite a bit of evidence that is true now and historically, especially in certain regions in the country. The recent DOJ reports have certainly pointed to that. I don’t think the issue is limited to blacks. The Latinos have indicated the same thing, but are much more quiet,” he said.
He would add, “The complicating factor – and not discussed as much – is socioeconomic status and policing. As a general, but not absolute, rule, seriously depressed areas have higher crime rates. There is quite a bit of data on unemployment and serious pay disparity in minority populations. Despair and poverty can lead to addiction, gangs and crime. White homeless certainly claim disparate treatment. And many poor whites claim the same.”
He continued, “I don’t raise these issues to excuse poor or unconstitutional policing or to say that blacks and Latinos don’t have it worse. I say it because this is complicated. But these issues do lead to over-policing and conflict. The reason unconscious bias training is so important is to raise internal awareness of the bias that may lie inside of you so that actions aren’t the result of those biases.”
“Remember, everyone has biases,” he added. “Cops just can’t let them interfere with how they police.”
In the news was the Chicago Inspector General report which recommended firing seven officers for lying about the shooting death in 2014 of Laquan McDonald. While the report is non-binding, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson is seeking to fire seven officers — including the partner of Officer Jason Van Dyke — for allegedly lying in their accounts of what happened in Mr. Van Dyke’s fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.
In a letter to his department, he wrote, “While I know that this type of action can come with many questions and varying opinions, please know that these decisions were not made lightly.”
Deputy Chief David McNaughton retired on Monday – he was on the list of officers that the inspector general had recommended for termination. Mr. McNaughton had found that Van Dyke’s use of force was proper. He had written that Mr. McDonald was approaching Officer Van Dyke when he was shot and the officer was in fear for his life.
Officer Walsh, Mr. Van Dyke’s partner, claimed that Mr. McDonald continued advancing toward them, ignoring commands to drop his knife and then swung around with the knife at the officers in an “aggressive manner” when he was 12 to 15 feet away.
But video from the police vehicle painted a different story, showing that Mr. McDonald, who had a knife, was walking away from the officers — parallel to them — when he was shot 16 times by Mr. Van Dyke. Mr. Van Dyke was charged with murder last November.
The inspector general will also look into why other officers were not also placed on desk duty, pending an investigation of their actions.
—David M. Greenwald reporting